Lymphedema & Leg Swelling

EDEMA

Swelling in the legs, or edema, occurs when fluid becomes trapped in the soft tissues of the leg from malfunctioning valves in the veins. When the valves in leg veins begin to weaken, or fail, the blood can no longer be pumped out of the legs properly. This causes fluid and blood to become trapped in the legs. When the fluid begins to build up, the leg may begin to swell. The term for the buildup of fluid which leads to swelling in the body is edema.

gross edema of leg and foot picture

LYMPHEDEMA

Lymphedema is a form of chronic edema that occurs when the body’s lymphatic system does not function properly. It is not the same as edema caused by vein disease, although vein disease can eventually progress into a combined venous / lymphatic disorder. As with swelling in the lower legs, lymphedema requires the attention of a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Lymphedema is a condition where patients experience fluid retention and swelling in their extremities, most commonly in the arms or lower legs. Specifically, this retained fluid is a substance known as lymph, a mostly clear fluid that carries white blood cells, proteins, and other materials throughout the body.

The venous system is responsible for re-routing 80% to 90% of the total fluid in the body. If there is a venous insufficiency or damage to the vascular system, the lymphatic system acts to help filter out fluid. But if a chronic issue with the vascular system is left untreated, the lymphatic system will eventually be unable to carry this large lymphatic load and swelling will start. An untreated chronic venous insufficiency will turn into lymphedema.

Any swelling in the lower leg should be considered abnormal, and patients must visit a physician immediately to diagnose and begin treating the underlying problem. Swelling can also be a symptom of other, non-venous conditions such as heart disease, heart failure, obesity, high blood pressure, liver disease, or kidney disease, so it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.

Lymphedema may be an inherited lifelong condition or develop later on due to damage or disease. Acquired lymphedema is most commonly caused by cancer treatment that removes lymph nodes or otherwise damages the lymphatic system. Lymphedema is typically a progressive issue, meaning that swelling gradually gets worse over time without proper treatment or control. Severe lymphedema can significantly impact a person’s health and general quality of life.

Symptoms of Lymphedema or Swelling

  • Swelling of part or all of your arm or leg, including fingers and/or toes
  • A feeling of heaviness or tightness
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Aching or discomfort
  • Recurring infections
  • Hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis)
  • Leg Cramps
gross edema of leg and foot pict2

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2021 04 09
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